How to Become a Secretary or Administrative Assistant
Secretaries and administrative assistants support managers.
High school graduates who have basic office and computer skills usually qualify for entry-level positions. Although most secretaries learn their job in several weeks, many legal and medical secretaries require several months of training to learn industry-specific terminology. Executive secretaries usually need several years of related work experience.
High school graduates can obtain basic office, computer, and English grammar skills at technical schools or community colleges. Some temporary placement agencies also provide formal training in computer and office skills.
Some medical and legal secretaries learn industry-specific terminology and practices by attending courses offered at community colleges or technical schools. For executive secretary positions, employers increasingly prefer to hire those who have taken some college courses or have a bachelor’s degree.
Secretaries and administrative assistants typically learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks. During this time they learn about office procedures, computer programs, and how to prepare office documents. However, employers of more specialized positions, including medical and legal secretaries, often have training that may last several months. Training typically covers industry-specific terminology and practices.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Executive secretaries can gain experience by working in administrative positions that have less complicated responsibilities. Many secretaries and administrative assistants advance to higher-level administrative positions.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Although not required, certification can demonstrate competency to employers.
The International Association of Administrative Professionals offers the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certification. Candidates must have a minimum of 2 to 4 years of administrative work experience, depending on their level of education, and pass an examination.
Legal secretaries have several certification options. For example, those with 1 year of general office experience, or who have completed an approved training course, can acquire the Accredited Legal Professional (ALP) designation through a testing process administered by NALS (previously known as National Association of Legal Secretaries). NALS offers two additional designations: the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS), considered to be an advanced certification for legal support professionals, and the Professional Paralegal (PP), a designation to show proficiency as a paralegal.
The Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation is conferred by Legal Secretaries International in areas such as intellectual property, criminal law, civil litigation, probate, and business law. Candidates must have 5 years of legal experience and pass an examination to become certified. In some instances, certain requirements may be waived.
Secretaries and administrative assistants generally advance to other administrative positions with more responsibilities, such as office supervisor, office manager, or executive secretary.
With additional training, many legal secretaries become paralegals or legal assistants.
Integrity. Secretaries may have access to sensitive or private information that they must keep confidential. For example, medical secretaries collect patient data that are required, by law, to be kept confidential. They should be trusted to handle this information in order to protect patient privacy.
Interpersonal skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants often interact with clients, customers, or staff. They should communicate effectively and be courteous when interacting with others to create a positive work environment and client experience.
Organizational skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants keep files, folders, and schedules in proper order so an office can run efficiently.
Writing skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants often write memos and emails when communicating with managers, employees, and customers. Therefore, they must have good grammar, ensure accuracy, and maintain a professional tone.